Why does God allow Mephistopheles to tempt Faust?
Mephistopheles is allowed to tempt Faust because God wants to prove to him that human beings have a capacity for good, beauty, and redemption. Mephistopheles, being the Devil, is a supreme pessimist about humanity's potential. The Lord, however, believes that through tests of extreme emotion, individuals will find their own redemption and prove that God's creation is worth extolling.
At the play's opening, what circumstances have driven Faust to the verge of suicide?
As the play opens, Faust is in a state of deep despair over the limits of his rational experience. His scholarly studies have not allowed him to live in harmony with Nature and as a result have destroyed his faith. Because of this intellectual blockage, Faust has devolved into a state of nihilism.
Discuss Goethe's level of faith in the rationalist school of thought.
Goethe has very little faith in the process of rationalism. While extreme rationalists believed that humanity might discover perfection through rational discourse, Goethe believed that only the stress of emotions such as love, beauty, and despair allowed a person to be at peace with their own nature. Goethe was a major proponent of the Sturm und Drang school of thought, a movement that prioritized human emotion over rationalism.
Why does Faust have such a difficult time explaining his faith to Gretchen?
Faust is caught in the dilemma of the disconnection between the signifier and the signified. This literary and philosophical idea posits that a word or signifier cannot sufficiently explain or point to the thing that it attempts to signify. Thus, Faust cannot say he believes in God, or even express his beliefs to Gretchen, because he cannot accurately name his beliefs.
Why is Faust considered a "post-Christian" character?
In medieval Europe, government and social class existed under the authority of the Catholic Church. God was the supreme authority, and church authorities made and enforced His laws. Any punishment for crimes was both civil and spiritual. For Faust, his loss of faith means that he also loses the moral constraints of this medieval society. Without a fear of the afterlife, Faust has no obligation to act in accordance with the laws and structures of the church.
Would you consider Faust to be akin to a classical epic? Why or why not?
One could consider Goethe's masterwork to be a modern epic. While classical epics depicted a hero venturing into the unknown world in order to find some sort of truth about the nature of life, Goethe's Faust participates in an inward journey, exploring his own soul and intellect in search of the truth of his own life. The play demonstrates the subjective turn in Modernism, in which the importance of the self comes to occupy the place of prominence in philosophy and culture.
What values or ideas does the character of Gretchen represent?
Gretchen's character represents the ability of humanity to become corrupted because of a turn towards the subjective self. Gretchen originally represents goodness and morality; even Mephistopheles finds no fault in her. However, Faust's influence on her inward life causes her to lose this morality by focusing on a selfish love affair that costs her life and faith.
In what way is Faust a critique of academic and intellectual culture?
Faust portrays the limits of reason and the ways in which academic culture distracts people from living a full life of the mind and the emotions. Wagner represents the move towards extreme rationalism. He sees no beauty in nature and, as Faust suggests, lives a life that causes him to know very little of the world. Meanwhile, the Student represents the weakness of the scholar, who lives entirely in his own mind. Scholarly pursuits create a relative world in which morals are useless, thus opening one up to temptation.
What does Faust's translation of the Book of John tell the reader about Faust's beliefs?
Faust's translation of the Book of John shows him to be a person in transition from the socially conditioned feudal self into a post-Christian relative self. Faust cannot accept the theology that the world centers on God and redemption. For Faust, reality centers on his own self, and this self-centeredness destroys faith and morality.
Is Faust a hero or a villain?
Faust could be construed as both hero and villain in the play. As a hero, Faust confronts his own nihilism and accepts that love has created for him a moment of peace and contentment with Nature. He accepts this contentment, even though he knows it secures his own damnation because of his wager with the Devil. However, Faust is also a villain because his quest is ultimately self-centered. He cannot help but drag others, including Gretchen and Martha, into his own self-centered temptations, dragging them toward damnation in the process.